SPREY Log #02 – Observations

It’s time to share some observations I have made on the journey recently.

1) Reading…helps.

First of all, having taken up reading as a daily task pays off and keeps paying off every day. You may wonder whether it is worth it sometimes. After all you might have to read a (nonfiction) book for four hours to get to what feels like ten minutes or less of bits that are relevant and actually have the power to change your way of thinking. But sometimes it’s more parts of the book that are like this and you never know beforehand.

2) Accepting Intuition

At the moment, I feel especially inspired by Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”. I’m far from finished having read the book, but even the first part had a huge impact on me already. Haidt claims – based on his own research – that we are actually rather driven by our intuitions and feelings in the first place and tend to rationalize afterwards why it was the right thing that we did or chose to feel and think.

In Haidt’s example, imagine yourself as a rider on an elephant. The elephant is subconscious and doesn’t give a damn about your rational opinions. The rider has some ideas where the elephant should go and what is right, but ultimately it’s up to the elephant what happens in actuality. And changing the elephant’s way or the elephant’s environment is hard. The rider can’t ride without the elephant, but without a rider the elephant has no direction, so there is power and merit in the rational rider as well.

Now there are people like me who tend to completely live in their head and constantly train their rational rider, believing he has somehow more impact on the elephant that way. He doesn’t. Example – I will still choose my colors intuitively and afterwards fabricate a lie why this color was the best choice by color psychology or for compositorial reasons. With more training my lies and justifications will get much better and my color choices possibly a much smaller bit, too.

I bet some people like me would absolutely rail against the idea that they are analytical as whatnot but still controlled by intuitions. I don’t. I don’t even view this as battle because I know what involuntary mood swings are, pain and desperation, envy, serenity and so many more emotions we humans tend to feel. No rational thinking can do away with that and that you will lose control sometimes. That is life. The elephant tends to win, and yet you can serve him and yourself well if you are a good rider that suggests him a great course throughout many small decisions, every day.

3) Immediate Reflections

But this also opens up a new questions and perspectives immediately. Are we artists secretly absolutely dominated by our own tastes outside of the realm of what we can rationally explain? There are still visual problems to solve that require knowledge of art fundamentals and that can be very technical and rational. But there will always be several ways to solve a problem and we will choose what our elephant likes most, whether we like our personal elephant or not.

I was complaining I had no identity from time to time. Nah, I’m fine. I’m quite average actually. I was just oblivious about the huge elephant I’m sitting on. It happens. Just turns out neither me nor the world are as complicated as I thought, they’re objectively complex still, but manageable.

My blog so far was oftentimes a rider wondering why some detail things aren’t working or wondering why they do work. I was missing the bigger picture.

4) Conclusions for Comic Work

And what does this all have to do with SPREY? Everything. If you change the person creating it, the comic will change. My prediction is that the story will not change much and also not in parts that you would know already, but the art style will either go through another shaky period or we will find ourselves in another Back to Black phase where heavy black ink will dominate the panels. I feel this is some part of the later Styx cycle where I always always return to that.

I had an interesting idea while browsing through a book on character design yesterday night. Instead of adding even more influences to my art I should reduce the influences I go by, at least for my current workflow. At no time in history could people access all the world’s styles, art instructions and process demonstrations as easily as it is today. Back then they had like…one teacher and were stuck with them and everything they were lucky enough to find on their journeys throughout their lives. Today’s situation on the other hand creates the opportunity for fantastic and bizarre mixtures of influences, but it can also lead to an information overload. How should you know what works best for you? How should you know you aren’t missing out on the best thing for you if you don’t keep digging? When is it time to settle and is settling bad? I’m happy and sad that I’m quite versatile. I can make a lot of things work pretty quickly. But the cost is I’m not particularly good at anything, not in a specialized manner. I have the suspicion that a 2D outline heavy comic and animation workflow could be my thing as I have trained that intensively since a while. Designing in that style is no problem either. But I would have to put more emotions into my lines and risk messing them up here and there for the sake of the raw emotion that must be slumbering somewhere in me.

The best thing is, I don’t have to change much about what I’m doing with SPREY already.

Let’s see where this is going!

(New)SPREY Log #1 – Foundations

It’s time to continue documenting my journey! But before I switch over to discussions of my webcomic and diving into artistic detail problems, I want to take this entry aside and examine the foundations on which I work as an artist. Maybe more of this will follow in the future, but my most important goal stays, working through Street Prey and finishing it.

Okay, so I’m trying to get myself together and off the ground to a new level of quality for my creative work. That’s what I always do. Lately, I felt stuck although I’m rapidly moving forward. I haven’t slacked a day, on some days I just didn’t have the quantity or quality of output that I would have liked. And that is okay.

What is important though was the realization how my expectations are not the same as the reality of what is actually happening. Sometimes an expectation I have in my head and reality just don’t match up ever. There is nothing wrong with striving for the best, the highest ideals, but you must be aware and accepting of where this leaves the realm of reality. Would you want to live by and be measured by a mere fantasy that lives completely outside of what you can actually do and outside of what actually happens in reality? You would always be disappointed.

Fact is, I’m perfectly average and on time with my life, I’m just not fully in control of it yet, as I’m not fully in control of the wild beast yet that is my creativity. Having learned to appreciate what I do have while being patient with figuring out how to bridge the gap helps a lot. What if the secret is the following: Instead of trying to match an ideal state that I can imagine and fantasize about – and never having seen or experienced it, so there is no proof it exists- I can rather look at my personal reality. What is there every day on paper and digital canvas before me? What is good about it already? How can I make it even better?

I’m starting to think my day to day work is everything I will ever see. That will be the stuff that creates everything I want to create, the thing that either makes a fruitful creative career possible or not. No periods of extraordinary almost mystical work. Why did it take some time to get here? The day to day work of most artists is quite mundane. You don’t finish up a big illustration every day. You don’t finish up fancy designs every day. Some days you’re just grinding away trying to solve a problem or worse, count the day as success when you have done the bare minimum to stay fit.

I have tried to force ideal schedules and drawing processes onto myself before. Usually, it does not work. By now I believe the biggest problem with those is that other people made them. Other people with different life and creative experiences, different circumstances, different personalities and usually different preferences, too. Also, when you yourself are inexperienced, you cannot live up to the regular schedule of someone who is ten or more years ahead of you. You are exhausted faster than you are even through enough that would make that daily schedule functional. Same goes for “art styles”. You cannot force it. But of course you can listen to others and see what you can learn from them for yourself. You just cannot hope to just copy them and make no decisions by yourself ever.

I don’t have to have everything figured out in an instant. It’s only about keeping your long-term goals in mind and knowing what the very next step to get there is. I can finally allow myself to relax and just enjoy the journey.

Website Makeover

I bring great news!

I am improving my website for a better reading experience and more comfort using the site in general.

You can see some very visible changes already such as the new landing page. Now scrolling through the chapters of SPREY is easier and more fun than ever. I must admit that I have to rethink how to present SPREY chapter 3. The chapter will be quite long, so presenting it in ONE scroll could become a bit tedious. I’ll figure it out!

There’s more to do though! A change like this screams for a new header for the page and a proper comic cover for SPREY. Also, the Manul project will over time give up it’s spot to a portfolio. But today is not the day and I’ll finish the project like it deserves it.

Finally, the blog. At first I thought the change broke it as the blog is “forced” out on the front page now. Then I realized that my blog is actually better off than before as you can easily access and read at least the latest 5 entries without me having to turn to clickbait titles to make you interested in them anyways. And for the other blogposts, I hope putting them in useful categories and also giving you access to the cloud of tags I accumulated over time (calling it the Styxcolor iceberg amicably) should help you to navigate through the rest.

This blog is running since more than a year now! Going through my old posts while assigning categories made me humble. A different person than is writing now has started this journey and put a lot of effort aside to document it and share information with other artists who might struggle and might save some time by not making all my mistakes. The struggle probably does not end ever, but the particular problems to solve change. I am no longer scared of the comic page as an opponent or having to redraw characters again and again. Not saying I am good at it, it is just not as hard as it used to be in the beginning.

I would have had the opportunity to go in and edit or even delete some of the old posts, but I decided against it. You get the full picture with me. A lot of my things didn’t work out in the past. Maybe that is just the nature of creative endeavors, that a lot of them fail. But if you learn from it, they pave the way for the ones that succeed.

And with that I’m returning to the drawing table.
See you next blogpost!

100 Days of SPREY – 27, 28

Yesterday was a pretty unremarkable day and I fell asleep early. Despite or maybe because of sleeping for long I woke up tired today and carried that through the whole day, causing some delays. I still got my daily work done and got a surprising reward. I am constructively confused today. Shoutout to my artist friends Deerbard and Zyalin who reminded me today that if you do studies you better have a clear goal in mind. Also with art in general. Thank you very much, from time to time we all need to be reminded of that!

I feel that up until now I tried to include anything and everything in my color studies, which made me slow and exhausted. Today, in this study of a movie still from Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) I just left my black lines in and was not half as tired. I also do not feel I missed out on something as my main concern with the piece was catching those muted movie colors as well as getting the man‘s expression right. In the movie‘s context it‘s all about his reaction to the revelation that it‘s christmas soon, the holiday he hates and fears most. I was later told my values are off. They seem to be off a lot of the time. But it seems like my study was not about the values at all. I clinged to the shapes I identified as those I could show through solid blacks and built up my piece from there. And the rest was an afterthought. I am not saying this is good or bad, it is just an observation.

I am also constructively confused why my orc studies look so good on the other hand. I was not concerned with getting anything right there, just sketchbook fun and fun exploration, sometimes deviating quite widely from the reference pictures.

Lastly, will you look at the changes our boy Felipe went through in the comic! After making the panel today it struck me that something must have happened in my art. I also remember very well how anxious I was with each panel. I was afraid one bad stroke and the characters would be ruined. Not that this isn‘t true, but nowadays I shrug and make as many versions as I need to get to an acceptable result. I think it‘s a difference of about two months we are looking at with the older Felipe. Me from two months ago would probably have wished to draw like today, but couldn‘t yet. I just have to watch my contrasts, I think my panels are getting really dim lately. But isn‘t it always like this? You fix a thing in your art fundamentals and suddenly something else is your worst and is keeping you down? I‘ll keep going, observing and taking notes. And I‘ll also watch my goals.

See you next blogpost!

100 Days of SPREY – 22

With the prior blog entry I have defined and committed myself to a core of my comic project. This is important, because there will always be a lot of temptations to pivot away or otherwise water it down later. Before I can enter the process of developing finer details of Street Prey (SPREY) more, there is a last layer of chains to break.

I have mentioned it before, but SPREY is actually an old idea. In 2011 I thought to myself while riding home from university on train and subway: wouldn‘t it be great if a hacker and a cop, a very unlikely pair, were trapped in an abandoned subway tunnel system with some cannibal horror rockers and had to learn to get along and fight their way out? With a lot of synthwavey and cyberpunky color play and 80ies horror movies cheese please, thank you. Apparently, the idea and the characters evolved a lot since then. But there must be something about SPREY that was so memorable it never left my brain again. It was just waiting for it‘s time to come later.

Maybe this even is a completely normal, natural cycle of creation: When you are young, you have a lot of time to explore media and a lot of playful ideas, but no means to create properly. And later in life, if you chose to evolve the toolset to create, you would actually not dream up big ideas like these anymore. But you yourself are still moved by them. So what you love and grew up with, you will consciously or unconsciously try to bring back to the world. This contributes to the cycle of trends returning every 30 years or so, when those who grew up under the influence of certain works of art and other media are in positions where they have a say in what gets created either as creator or as paying customer.

It is not inherently bad to do it like this. You just have to make sure to bring what you cherish back in a way other people outside of your bubble understand it, too. Many movie makers I love from the 80ies were inspired by horror and sci-fi movies of the 50ies and brought elements and references from them over to their own movies. While the 80ies will always have a special place in my heart, I‘m not as strongly connected to the 50ies. Still, I can enjoy the movies, I can see where my heroes are coming from and respect their roots, too, as a neverending cycle of artists being inspired by other artists who came before them. One day someone will look at my beloved 80ies and 90ies influences, shake their head and say „Well, not my thing, but I can understand where she‘s coming from.“ just like me now.

And there we have it. The movie makers of the 80ies did not seek to recreate the past slavishly. They couldn‘t, the audience wouldn‘t buy it, just like I couldn‘t recreate an authentic 80ies experience if I tried. I haven‘t culturally lived in that era. We cannot move back in history, at least it is not healthy to do so and ignore what was learned since then as well as ignoring societal progress. You cannot successfully exclude reality ever and reality is progression of time and change. Everything changes and you have to adapt. Also, my favorite 80ies movies have been made already. While I can learn from them and try to bring their appeal or lessons from them to my works, I should not try to be them like my heroes did not try to revert back to the 50ies.

If you are thinking to yourself right now, everything of this is obvious, why am I making such a fuss, you are a lucky lucky person! To me, nothing of this was clear ten years ago. Even now I‘m still learning and repeating to learn how to stand on my own as a creative brain and not get swept up in trends or fandoms. Did you ever wonder why we get self-indulgent works of art, especially movies, where the ageing creative mind behind the work brings back something they invented and cherished from their youth, even if nobody asked for it, the present audience doesn‘t understand it anymore and the creator stubbornly makes no effort to adapt to anything. They have worked hard and have made many sacrifices to come to a place where they finally can create their dream project, so of course they are unwilling to compromise. But then the creation might not have the impact it otherwise could have had. You are indeed alone when you are creating, but you are not alone when you unleash it onto the world.

Have a counter example. My knowledge of Russia of the 1800s is quite limited, but the great old novelists like Chekov, Tolstoj and Dostojewski still manage to make me care for the fates of their protagonists and what the works tell me about life. I can enjoy the old literature, even if I do not understand every reference without looking it up. I think this is because they managed to capture the essence not only of their times but of a timeless human experience. Flaws, passions, despair over seemingly inevitable failures, small sparkles of joy throughout a mundane existance, the pain and uncertainty of growing up. All this, to an extent, resonates with every human being. We all arrive at places in our life where we ask ourselves comparable questions, where we face comparable problems, but of course, nothing is ever an exact copy of itself. Therefore, seemingly old stories have to be told again and again with new coats on top. One day we will bore future generations with what was novel to us, maybe like early social media and it‘s opportunities and risks.

And now the big question – what are the consequences for my comic?

I just laid down my current design and worldbuilding philosophy for you. I had this grandiose idea to make SPREY 80ies technology cyberpunk, but clean and sanitized like synthwave, with hidden gritty horrors under the stylish surface. That is a lot, and that requires a lot of work to get right. I was all about learning the rules of those genres and preparing to follow slavishly. I do not have to. The big cyberpunk works of the 80ies and later have been done already. I will never be Akira, Blade Runner or Battle Angel Alita and I don‘t have to. Synthwave has been done already, too. I must do more than just use references. There must be room for me and what I can bring to the table myself, even if it is just that I want to make a mature romance out of it.

And instead of asking myself how and whom I can impress by getting all the details right and learning a lot of things by heart…what can I add on top of the core of my story that will make the core shine even more and add to what I have to say, not detract from it? Suddenly you do not have as many paralyzing choices as before while being very free. But unfortunately, the answers are not there immediately. They want to be discovered and fought for in many hours of exploration, trial and error and research. But now I have a chance to actually work with the core of my own comic instead of just slapping an aesthetic over it like someone else‘s worn skin.